Mexicali Mexico: portrait of a border town

Located on the US/Mexico border across the from Calexico California is the city of Mexicali, Mexico. Covering an area of approximately 5,200 square miles, it is home to over 900,000 people and is the capital of the Mexican state of Baja California.

Established in 1903 as a mostly agricultural settlement, it was created out of the dreams of Harry Chandler, then publisher of the Los Angeles Times, who built an irrigation canal to fertilize some of the 800,000 acres of desert land he controlled in northern Baja and southern California. The breaking of one of these canals in 1905 diverting the uncontrolled Colorado River into the Salton Sink , a dried-up remainder of the Sea of Cortez creating the Salton Sea in the flooded imperial valley.

Many of the Chinese laborers who helped build the irrigation system stayed on in Mexicali after its completion, locating in an area known as Chinesca (Chinatown), historically located at the intersection of Avenida Madero and Calle Melgar streets. The city continues to have the largest per capita Chinese population, and more Chinese restaurant per capita then any other city in Mexico.

Mexicali experienced a growth boom during the American prohibition of the 20’s as the city’s bars, restaurants, Casinos and hotels brought Americans across the border in droves. During this time, Mexicali became the main bootleggers source for alcohol coming into the United States, smuggled through an elaborate underground tunnel system into the town of Calexico.

In the 1950’s and 60’s Cotton became the most important crop of the region, helping to develop a growing textile industry in Mexicali. In the 60's and 70's, the valley became the biggest cotton producing zone in Mexico, with more than half a million parcels harvested in one year. Although manufacturing is now its main employment base, agriculture continues to be a large industry, with exports of asparagus, broccoli, green onions and radishes going worldwide. From a population of 100,000 people in 1975 the city is now approaching 1 million residents thanks to a fast growing manufacturing base of American companies which is drawing in residents from other parts of Mexico to this fast growing border town.

for related feature see: calexico, california.

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